Agricultural Free Trade & Market Fundamentalism Increased Poverty for Millions of Africans

africa farming photo

photo: IRRI Images via flickr.

That headline may sound like anti-globalization rhetoric, and I suppose in a way it is, but based on a new report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences we now have some more proof that the enforced market reforms on the mid 1980s in Africa have, rather than bring prosperity as planned, have backfired and just brought increased poverty, increased hunger and food riots:Professor Laurence Becker of Oregon State University explains that these market reforms "sometimes eliminated critical support systems for poor farmers who had no car, no land security, made $1 a day and had their life savings of $600 hidden under a mattress."

It was these people Prof. Becker says were then asked to compete with agricultural imports from around the world. Once tariff barriers were removed, "less expensive imported food flooded into countries, some of which at one point were nearly self-sufficient in agriculture."

Science Daily summarizes:

Many people in African nations, Becker said, farm local land communally, as they have been doing for generations, without title to it or expensive equipment -- and have developed systems that may not be advanced, but are functional. They are often not prepared to compete with multinational corporations or sophisticated trade systems. The loss of local agricultural production puts them at the mercy of sudden spikes in food costs around the world. And some of the farmers they compete with in the U.S., East Asia and other nations receive crop supports or subsidies of various types, while they are told they must embrace completely free trade with no assistance.

"A truly free market does not exist in this world," Becker said. "We don't have one, but we tell hungry people in Africa that they are supposed to."

The researchers conclude that in many places the emphasis on cash-crops and growing practices of the "Green Revolution" have caused more harm than good, while the market reformations have brought steadily higher unemployment and an erosion of local food production.

Here's the green angle in this: Potential solutions presented by the researchers... More diversity of local crops, appropriate tariff barriers "to give local producers a reasonable chance", better road networks and infrastructure necessary to process local crops and bring them to market.

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